“The two-word text from my boss that let me know it really is OK to not be OK.”

Video by MWN

The alarm went off at 6:50am. Around two hours after she last looked at her phone and hoped for two more hours of uninterrupted sleep.

She got up and started her morning routine, washing her face and brushing her teeth. She then caught her own reflection in the bathroom mirror.

Her eyes looked puffy and tired, she noticed. The kind of eyes that have been fighting to stay closed without success.

Almost instantly she felt pathetic. The grey cloud she thought she’d hidden from for months floated back into sight.

After sitting on the edge of her bed, phone in hand for 10 minutes that felt like hours, she dialled her boss’ number. No answer. So she pressed send on a script-like text message she’d sent a few times before.

“Hi, I’m sorry but I’m not feeling well enough to come into work today. Sorry for the inconvenience.’

She was not me.

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Not the woman who has a loving family, supportive partner, just enough friends and a stable income.

She’s the one who, for no reason at all, gets sad sometimes. Calls herself disgusting. And weak. Some days, she can’t face the thought of putting on clothes and painting on a smile.

Well, that’s what it feels like.

I’ve always felt guilty about struggling with my mental health. Like it’s an indulgence I shouldn’t be afforded considering there’s nothing all that wrong with my life. So when I started a shiny new job, a real job, almost a year ago, I pushed the small, dark thoughts to the back of mind. Everything was great. They weren’t allowed to be there.

But they grew and grew, until I felt like I couldn’t face coming to work. So I’d call in sick here and there. And it always made me feel worse, not better.

Thankfully I was eventually able to be honest with my boss about my struggles. And to my relief, she understood. More than that, she was supportive.

"I've always felt guilty about struggling with my mental health. Like it's an indulgence I shouldn't be afforded considering there's nothing all that wrong with my life." Image: Getty.

So when those thoughts crept back up on me last week, after months of feeling like I had everything under control and the seas were finally that bit calmer, I was able to honestly say: "I'm sorry, but I'm not having a good day. I won't be coming into work today."

I still felt sh*t about it. I didn't have gastro, or the flu, or a 'genuine' illness keeping me from doing my job. I apologised again, but my boss replied with two words that helped me realise it's OK not to be OK.

'People first.'

I'm not the only one who feels ashamed about taking a mental health day. I'm also not alone in needing one. Three million Aussies are living with anxiety or depression, Beyond Blue reports, with one in five of us having taken time off in the last 12 months due to mental health issues. And only half of us feel like our managers or senior business leaders value our mental health.

It's also costing employers. Research shows that Australian businesses lose over $6.5 billion each year by failing to provide intervention and treatment assistance for employees with mental health conditions.

So, why are so many of us feeling crap about feeling... crap?

"In a perfect world, confessing to taking a mental health day would be great as, if everyone was open and honest about it, workplaces would acknowledge the need for them and it would become normalised," psychologist, Dr Marny Lishman told The Sydney Morning Herald in a recent interview.

"In reality if workplaces don't have the appropriate mindset about this yet, admitting to taking a mental health day could backfire for an employee. Mental health days are necessary because when we're not mentally healthy it affects how we function, just the same as when we're physically unwell."

LISTEN: While Mark Latham rallies against mental health awareness, The Mamamia Out Loud team defend the sufferers doing their best to get through each day (post continues after audio...)

Mamamia's People & Culture Coordinator, Abby Bacon agrees, pointing out that taking the time to source appropriate treatment options and take care of your mental health isn't something to be ashamed about.

"People feel bad or guilty about this because when it comes to physical illness, there is no way you're going to go to work if you're throwing up, but there is no easy marker like that for mental illness," she said.

"What employees need to realise is that doesn't mean they should force themselves to go to work if they mentally aren't well. Mental health is just as important as physical health and taking a mental health sick day is just as valid as any day you take off for the flu."

From a HR perspective, Bacon insists it's best to openly communicate about their mental health with someone at work they trust, if they feel comfortable, rather than 'chucking a sickie' and letting the guilt get to them.

"It's best for employees to be honest about their mental health if they feel comfortable. This way we can offer assistance through our EAP (Employment Assistance Programs) where employees have access to counsellors and treatment assistance."

"Mental illness is now the leading reason for absenteeism, with one in five of us taking time off due to mental health issues in the past year. Based on that, I think it is really important for HR and managers to pay attention to the welfare of their employees, as then they are more likely to see returns in maintained productivity and good staff retention."

For me, it was only when I did that and 'came clean' about how I was really feeling that I was able to start getting better.

Not cured, but better.

You can find out more from Heads Up and better mental health in the workplace at www.headsup.org.au/.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please seek professional help, or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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